On January 22, 2009, President Barack Obama signed an executive order for the eventual closure of Guantanamo Bay. Closing Guantanamo means a number of things have to be sorted out. For a time, the main concern was dealing with those prisoners still in Gitmo and where they would be transferred or released to after the closure. Congress expressed concern about prisoners transferred to facilities on domestic soil, particularly worried that they might later be released from imprisonment and would then be free on American soil.
This initial concern was dismissed by a report on immigration laws that made it clear that this was unlikely to be a concern. Since then, though, the controversial detention camp has become the center of a storm of controversy and complex legal items, from Bowe Bergdahl to hunger strike footage. On top of that, a Gallup poll of public opinion shows that most Americans aren’t behind closing Guantanamo. Of those who responded, 29 percent said they believed the U.S. should shut it down, while 66 percent said they believed it should not be shut down.
A majority was against the closure across parties, though Republicans recorded the greatest number in disagreement, with 84 percent saying the prison should not be closed, compared to 13 percent saying it should. Comparatively, 64 percent of independents were against closure, as was 54 percent of Democrats.
Recently, though, the prison’s closure has been the least of the matters demanding attention at Guantanamo. In May, there were reports covering a prison hunger strike and videos of the forced feeding of one prisoner in particular, Abi Wa’El “Jihad” Dhiab, who had petitioned for an injunction on forced feedings and cell extractions. Dhiab’s lawyer received permission from a judge to obtain the videos, and the eventual trial with likely be one with continued political significance.
Since then, the exchange for Bergdahl took place, in a highly controversial exchange of five Taliban prisoners from Gitmo for the last American prisoner of war in Afghanistan. The exchange has critics claiming that the U.S. has given enemies incentive for targeting U.S. personnel for imprisonment, as it has signaled a willingness to negotiate for their release in a profitable way for terrorists.
Others are concerned that released members of the Taliban will pour their efforts back into the fight against Americans. “We have made a serious, serious geopolitical mistake. We’ve empowered the Taliban. The one thing that they want more than anything … was recognition from the U.S. government so they can use that to propagandize against areas that are unsecure still in Afghanistan. They got all of that,” said House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Rogers in an interview with ABC. “It allows them to prepare for what’s next and that’s going to be join the fight against what Americans are left in Afghanistan in 51 weeks.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said this is a possibility in a recent interview with CNN, saying, “I’m not telling you that they don’t have some ability at some point to go back and get involved (in fighting),” but noting that “they also have an ability to get killed doing that.”
The exchange constitutes the worst possible outcome for Guantanamo prisoner releases, which is understandable, given that the nature of the release is that of a trade and not the careful removal of prisoners from the detention center prior to its closure. Even so, critics of Obama’s decision in Congress are pointing to the National Defense Authorization Act, which holds that 30 days’ notice must be given to Congress before Guantanamo detainees may be transferred.
Officials have called the trial of five 9/11 perpetrators the most complicated terrorism trial in history, according to The Washington Post, and it’s just one more complexity that Gitmo is facing amid a tangled string of prisoners. Unfortunately, it’s about to get considerably more complicated, as FBI questions put to the defendants’ lawyers have brought about a potential conflict of interest that’s placed a pause on the proceedings. The five individuals on trial are facing possible execution should they be found guilty of their charges of mass murder, terrorism, and hijacking.
Judge Army Col. James Pohl said that there was some concern as to how well the FBI interference had been looked into, and as such, the Gitmo military commission is deciding whether to “abate or modify” the proceedings, according to Reuters.
One attorney, James Connell, representing Ammar al-Baluchi, described the situation using the tried-and-true cookie jar metaphor. “The government’s position now is that having been caught with its hand in the cookie jar, there is no problem because even though it ate the cookie, it put the lid back on the jar,” said Connel to The Washington Post. Expanding from there, the president’s executive order may have a ways to go considering Gitmo appears to be a cookie factory — and open jars keep cropping up.